TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Re: Stop AOL's Email Scheme

Re: Stop AOL's Email Scheme

Robert Bonomi (
Thu, 23 Feb 2006 04:11:53 -0000

In article <>,
Patrick Townson <> wrote:

> [TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: Below is a message I recieved from the
> people passing along some suggestions on the new
> plan by AOL to begin charging 'postage' of _large_ commercial emailers.
> Mr. Pariser disapproves of the plan. Please read his response to the
> plan by AOL, and then after his response, I will make some comments of
> my own. I do _NOT_ agree with Mr. Pariser's interpretation of what is
> happening, nor do I agree with his conclusions. PAT]

> ----- Original Message -----
> From: Eli Pariser, Civic Action
> To: ptownson
> Sent: Wednesday, February 22, 2006 1:29 PM
> Subject: Stop AOL's email scheme

> AOL is threatening the Internet as we know it.

> They want to charge an "email tax" for sending email. Those who don't
> pay would risk their emails not being delivered.

> Can you help change AOL's mind by signing this emergency petition?

> Dear MoveOn member,

> The very existence of online civic participation and the free Internet
> as we know it are under attack by America Online.

> AOL recently announced what amounts to an "email tax." Under this
> pay-to-send system, large emailers willing to pay an "email tax" can
> bypass spam filters and get guaranteed access to people's inboxes -- with
> their messages having a preferential high-priority designation.

> Charities, small businesses, civic organizing groups, and even
> families with mailing lists will inevitably be left with inferior
> Internet service unless they are willing to pay the "email tax" to
> AOL. We need to stop AOL immediately so other email hosts know that
> following AOL's lead would be a mistake.

> Can you sign this emergency petition to America Online and forward it
> to your friends?

> Sign here:

> Petition statement: "AOL, don't auction off preferential access to
> people's inboxes to giant emailers, while leaving people's friends,
> families, and favorite causes wondering if their emails are being
> delivered at all. The In ternet is a force for democracy and economic
> innovation only because it is open to all Internet users equally-we
> must not let it become an unlevel playing field."

> Sign here:

> AOL is one of the biggest email hosts in the world -- if we stop them
> from unleashing this threat to the Internet, others will know not to
> try it. Everyo ne who signs this petition will be sent information on
> how to contact AOL directly, as well as future steps that can be
> taken until AOL drops its new "email tax" policy.

> AOL's proposed pay-to-send system is the first step down the slippery
> slope toward dividing the Internet into two classes of users -- those
> who get preferential treatment and those who are left behind.

> AOL pretends nothing would change for senders who don't pay, but
> that's not reality. The moment AOL switches to a world where giant
> emailers pay for preferential treatment, AOL faces this internal
> choice: spend money to keep spam filters up-to-date so legitimate
> email isn't identified as spam, or ma ke money by neglecting their
> spam filters and pushing more senders to pay f or guaranteed
> delivery. Which do you think they'll choose

> If AOL has its way, the big loser will be regular email users-whose
> email from friends, family, and favorite causes will increasingly go
> undelivered a nd disappear into the black hole of a neglected spam
> filter. Another loser will be democracy and economic innovation on the
> Internet-where small ideas become big ideas specifically because
> regular people can spread ideas freely on a level playing field.

> If an "email tax" existed when MoveOn began, we never would have
> gotten off the ground-indeed, AOL's proposal will hurt every
> membership group, regard less of political affiliation. That's why
> groups all across the political s pectrum are joining together with
> charities, non-profits, small businesses, labor unions, and Internet
> watchdog groups in opposition to AOL's "email tax."

> The president of the Association for Cancer Online Resources (ACOR) points
> out the real-world urgency of this issue:

> In essence, this is going to block every AOL subscriber suffering from
> any form of cancer from receiving potentially life-saving information
> they may not be able to get from any other source, simply because a
> non-profit like ACOR-which serves more than 55,000 cancer patients
> and caregivers every day-cannot afford to pay the fee.

> Can you sign this emergency petition to America Online and forward it
> to your friends?


> Thank you for all you do.

> -Eli Pariser, Noah T. Winer, Adam Green, and the Civic Action team
> Wednesday, February 22nd, 2006

> [TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: I was happy to run this message from
> Mr. Pariser, even though I am in almost total disagreement with
> it. Eli should note that if it were not for the huge amount of spam
> and other abuse email otherwise receives over the years, all this
> would be just a moot point anyway. Pariser claims the 'death of the
> internet' (where have we heard that expression before?) will happen
> when AOL starts imposing its 'email tax' on those who will pay. No one
> would have to pay anything if more agressive tactics were used against
> spammers. But, alas, that is not to be, since the spam-enablers (those
> users who are forever modifying their filters to dodge [usually
> unsuccessfully] the amount of garbage on the net) will not tolerate
> any method of handling the 'problem' except their own, mostly
> disproven one.

> Eli continues by noting that "if the email tax had been in effect when
> move-on got started, they would have never been able to do their
> thing." If I am correct, move-on got started as a result of a dispute
> over some actions (or antics, depends on your persuasion I guess) by
> President Clinton, now about a decade ago. Well, Eli, I have been
> around with _my_ mailing list -- my pulpit if you will -- a little
> over twice as long as yours, 25 years this summer. And yes, Eli, it
> would have been hard for TELECOM Digest in those days also, but it is
> an invalid comparison since in those times, just as in the middle
> 1990's when you started, we did not have spam. Not in the 1980's or
> early/middle 1990's at least we did not, and we certainly did not have
> spam-enablers, at least not until the middle-late 1990's. Then Eli
> decides to do the obligatory get-personal routine, talking about the
> 'poor cancer sufferers and patients' will not be able to get the help
> they need because the organization handing out the information on
> cancer won't be able to afford to send it either. How do you know,
> Eli? Have you audited their books or inquired in other than a general
> way? And anyway, _how_ do they get their information now, after wading
> through the tons of spam which show up in their inboxes every day? You
> say they use white/black listing to insure that at least some of
> their good mail gets through? Who ever at AOL ever said any of that
> would change? When the mail at AOL hits your inbox (regardless of
> how it gets through the AOL-operated filters [paid and 'valid' spam
> or unpaid spam]) individual users will still have the ultimate control
> over their own inbox. Individual users will still operate their white/
> black lists, their Spam Assassins, etc and sort the mail as they wish.

> All the so-called 'email tax' as you like to call it will do is
> transfer a bit of the suffering and hardship over to the spammers;
> they'll have to start making a token (perhaps) payment for the mess
> they are causing on the net. Actually, Eli, if you want to send
> petitions of complaint around, those petitions should be against the
> spam-enablers, the spam-apologists who keep insisting (as they wring
> their hands) that there is nothing which can be done about spam. Your
> damn straight there can be actions taken against spammers, most of
> whom are too damn dumb to know any better anyway.

> I put your petition and links here for anyone who wishes to sign it,
> since that is the way which I believe is fair, but I wish you would
> have directed your efforts at real, true worthwhile vendettas against
> the spammers. By the way, anyone who really and truely still believes
> filters work successfully, please note: AOL has gone that route; tried
> it for more than a year; are zapping a million (?) pieces of mail each
> day, and _still getting no where_. PAT]

At their peak, AOL was zapping well over a _billion_ pieces of spam
per day. If I recall correctly, it was something like 2.2 billion/day,
but I don't have an authoritative cite for that number. I believe that load
was close to 90% of _all_ incoming mail at AOL.

Interestingly, they have stated that the spam volume they currently
see is _down_ by about 40% from peak levels.

In recent times (i.e., the last year or two), their 'defensive
measures' have become aggressive enough that they also block a
non-trivial amount of legitimate mail. I'm given to understand
mailboxes at AOL -are- nearly spam-free, though.

The 'goodmail' pay-to-send service that AOL (and Yahoo) are
participating in *claims* that they will authorize their 'stamp' only
for "confirmed opt-in" mass mailings.

There are a couple of possibilities:

1) they _always_ do 'due diligence' in investigating those who try to buy
into the service, and, in time, enough people decide it 'really means
something' that it actually *has* value. (I'm _not_ holding my breath.)

2) They _don't_ adequately validate their customers, and spam gets sent
with the 'goodmail' certification. IF they don't immediately take
extremely aggressive action against that party -- which violated their
contract terms of service -- then the value of their 'goodmail'
certification immediately drops to 'nothing' (or even "negative";
there are people that use the Habeas "certified non-spam mail" as a
criteria to *block* on -- since (a) the Habeas mark in mail _has_ been
forged *without* Habeas taking action against the forgers, and (b) 'more
than one' actual Habeas client has violated the terms of use of the
Habeas certification, and Habeas took -no- action other than to tell
that client to stop using their mark/certification.

In the present 'state of the world', I question whether 'enough'
companies that do significant-size *CLEAN* mailings are going to 'buy
into' this 'goodmail' idea for it to have any significant impact on
general email-processing procedures. If only 0.001% of incoming mail
bears the 'goodmail' stamp, then providers _will_ still have to keep
up the existing defenses.

In that scenario, 'goodmail' simply won't have any measurable effect
on the world at large -- there will be no incentive for other
providers to 'buy into' the program (since it won't produce enough
revenue to make any noticable difference) -- and it will eventually
'wither away' and die.

And, if 'goodmail' screws up _anything_ significant, even *once*, the
'wither away and die' will happen even quicker.

[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: But at least Robert, you seem to be
agreeing with my contention (in your 'amount of email AOL tosses each
day statistics') that the practice of email/spam filtering is basically
a waste of time, not accomplishing a lot. And of course we know that
filters can screw up also, don't we? PAT]

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